How I Will I Respond?

Recently I finished a book called Teaching With Poverty In Mind by Eric Jensen. Like many awareness seminars, books, and documentaries, the material shed light on my ignorance to how many students are impacted by poverty. Furthering that idea, I didn’t understand fully how student’s brains and habits can be shaped by their misfortune. In this short post I would like to recount a few revelations and their impact on me as a future teacher.

In the School of Education office here at Indiana Wesleyan University, I am continually taught to find my bias’. I am a girl who prides myself with the ability to “put myself in someone else’s shoes.” I usually have a lot of grace for people and their stories. After reading the second chapter of Teaching With Poverty In Mind, I realized I have no idea what it means to be in want for the simple needs and stability like so many students in poverty today. There are deep engrained issues that create a cycle where people are stuck in poverty for generations.

Looking at these statistics was difficult for me as I realized many of the students that fall in these tragic statistics are African American. There is a strange connection between the black community and educational barriers and poverty. I grew up living in the inner city Detroit where just on the outskirts of the city, racism still brews. I would argue that this racism is caused greatly by the ignorance of what students in poverty face. For a student to develop properly, there are many needs that have to be met. Jensen mentions that each child needs human contact often. For many children in poverty, there is a single parent working for a majority of the day. They cannot help develop their child’s vocabulary or phonological awareness. There are many character qualities that must be taught because they are not engrained into the human awareness. Jensen mentions that low-income students lack many of these values such as sympathy, forgiveness, and cooperation because they do not learn them from their parents.

While growing up in the inner city, I interacted with many children who didn’t seem to understand how to apologize or listen quietly like I had been taught. As a young girl I labeled these kids as, “bad.” Unfortunately, teachers and school administrators label students like this frequently unaware of their upbringing and stressors. One of the most enlightening parts of this book for me was learning about acute and chronic stressors.

“A stressor is anything that threatens to disrupt homeostasis-for example, criticism, neglect, social exclusion, lack of enrichment, malnutrition, drug use, exposure to toxins, abuse, or trauma”( Jensen 23).  So many students from low income situations develop unhealthy amount of cell growth because of stressors.

This is not the students fault. They are not lazy, rude, or “bad” kids. Many are dealign with an incredible amount of stressors.

The book brought me a lot of awareness to my own bias, which I am very grateful for. As far a practical application, well that will have to come with time and with an individual classroom. I will have to keep this book on my shelf.

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The American Dream vs. The Good Life

It is December 30th. Cheers to new beginnings right? Can I get an “amen” for rearrangement and fresh starts? Cheers to being different! In the year of 2015, I am going to transform myself for the better so help me God. I want to efficient with my time and organized and sure of myself. I want to be disciplined and healthy. I’m going to get the best grades of my college career. I’m going to set a budget and follow it so I can feel like an accomplished adult. I want to be humble and compassionate and grace filled and unselfish. I want to be better so very badly.

I desire so many things. It’s like I’m Christmas shopping all over again—self-improvement section.

Drop the bag. Drop the list. Forget it. Forget about Jenn for just one second.

I recently heard a pastor say, “It doesn’t matter if your dreams and aspirations are fulfilled, it doesn’t even matter if you fail. It only matters if you reach people who desperately need to know Jesus.”

Well I was offended. I want to be successful and efficient. I want to work hard and achieve much! Especially for God, isn’t that what the Lord wants for me too? Maybe, but I’m discovering more and more that I was really just pursuing the American Dream. It has leaked into the fibers of my theories and ideas. It has brain washed me.

This last semester was one of the most deflating time periods of my twenty-one years. I burnt out so badly that I am certain that everyone in the proximity could smell the burning ash of my dignity—friends, pastors, bosses, family, professors. My ego was in shreds.

Thank God.

Thank God I was able to see the poisonous way I was living. The Lord saw the American dream engrained in me and decided to do some serious surgery.

So what is the Good life? If this is the time for New Year’s resolutions, how can we live the good life? Well, I think it has a lot to do with our expectations. When I come home to my family, I find that loving them is much easier when I have no standard they must meet or fulfill for me. The good life is finding joy in going on a walk and being completely alone. Because solitude is not loneliness. In the quiet, on my own, I notice how refreshing the cold air feels in my lungs and how intricately beautiful trees look in the winter without their leaves. The good life is being completely free of the expectations of others and letting go of the judgments you have for yourself.

 And God is there.

The good life means finding the Father. It means searching desperately after him—not his direction for your life. And finding him, truly finding him, brings rest to your soul. It has brought rest to mine.

 It is the freedom of self-forgetfulness.

“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade a make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” James 4:13-14

In the New Year, I hope that whether I fail, succeed, sing, laugh, or cry, that I know Christ better and that those around me know him better because of it.

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Choosing Gentleness

We always train children to be gentle. Society sees desirable children as ones who “play nice” with other children and are inherently sweet. We always say things like, “hold it nicely” and “treat it gentle.” Unfortunately, the standard of gentleness is not something we hold on to as we grow older. It’s a rough world out there, suck it up. Be tough, be independent, don’t let people walk on you.

I’ve decided I don’t want to live like that.

Think about those treacherous windy days. Rough winds blow your hair in every which way so you can’t see, lift your belongings into the air, and turn your umbrella inside out making it useless. Now close your eyes and think about a gentle breeze. It calms you and brings a smile from your soul. It makes you want to dance. In fact, it encourages you to dance. And if you are like me, sing. A slight breeze makes those around you beautiful as it lifts their loose hair into the wind.

I want to be a gentle breeze.

In reality, choosing gentleness takes courage and a strong heart. We live in a society where independence and the progression of self is the highest priority. We always joke about punching people in the face, kicking them where it hurts, and giving them what they “deserve.” Why? Why is corse language such a large part of our humor? Why don’t we “hold each other nicely?” like we were taught in our youth? It takes a lot of strength to quiet your anger. It takes courage to hug someone when they hurt you. Asking God to soften your heart can be a very difficult prayer.

Gentleness fights bitterness. Bitterness creates tension in rooms and years of fighting. It is poison. Ah, but gentleness is soothing and whole and true. It says, “All will be well.” Think of how you would quiet a frightened child. “It’s going to be alright, shhhh, it’s okay darling, you will be okay.” Children trust the strength of their parents and settle in the calm of their voice.

Be sweet, be soft, be gentle. Let your life say, “All will be well, it will be okay.”

This lifestyle should be lived by everyone. Men, when you are gentle and kind, you have immense power. A gentle man is not a weak man. By choosing to humble your tough demeanor, you have the potential to bless everyone around you. Women, don’t let society tell you to be fierce and independent and sexy. Your hearts long to be soft! You just don’t feel safe that way. But the world desperately needs it. The world, our children, our hearts, need the peace that gentleness brings. I choose not to deprive them of it. It is a life worth living.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Written by a friend in pain.

So this is heart/break.
 
Honestly, I never knew it existed until the past few days. This heaving, shaking, whole-body-hurting, breaking pain. And the thing is, there is no one to blame except myself. This is something I’ve made; something I’ve created, pretending to be a god, but catering to my own desperation.
 
I used to be so cynical. The girls who would muffle their cries in sheets and pillows, body racked with sobs, I would pat them on the back and think this isn’t real. But it is. And I feel it. This tripping, tumbling, words-can’t-come-quick-enough, to tell him how much I need him under the covers of night’s pervading loneliness.
 
This is heart/break.
 
But why? Why do we do this to each other? Why do we do this, Church? Those are my echoing questions.
 
Because this, this isn’t Love.
 
A friend of mine asked me what I thought love was. I couldn’t answer. Sometimes, it felt like walking and holding hands. Or a sweet text to wake up to in the morning. Or the metamorphosis of butterflies in my stomach when I knew I was going to see him that afternoon.
 
But that isn’t love. And now this is heart/break, remember.
 
I sing, “Break my heart for what breaks Yours,” or “They will know we our Christians by our Love.” And I love but I lust and I’m lost.
 
We’re lost.
 
Because now I know what heart/break feels like it. And it’s a hollow, resounding, selfish pain that leaks out the cracks of my eyes and captures my breath, until my lungs are exploding.
 
Listen, Church. Something is wrong with our Love. Something is wrong with our Love, Church. I’ve held countless sobbing girls, talked with watery-eyed guys. We’ve twisted it. We claw and we tear at the clothing of each other’s hearts in hopes we find Love beyond flesh or sex or sin. But that’s all it amounts to—flesh, sex, and sin. Because that isn’t Love.
 
Love is bleeding on the cross, tearing the veil, washing and rinsing, tumultuous waves seething, with grace lined in a face torn by a crown of thorns.
 
Love is living miracles, an alabaster jar and healing mud, mountaintops and trees singing this beautiful refrain: Love has risen.
 
But Love did not rise without heart/break. Love died, tears pouring out of eyes that looked with pain upon the choices of a broken humanity. Love broke under pressure, mistakes, under pain, anger. But Love has risen.
 
Church, we experience heart/break, but Love is risen. And we will rise, to reach past our selfish shells of insecurities and know Love.
 
I loved him. But I did not Love well.
 
Church, Love well.
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You Have A Reason To Celebrate.

I will never forget when Valentine’s day was ruined for me. It happened to be the first year at Indiana Wesleyan University. There was an awkward juxtaposition of bitterness and giddiness in the air. I felt it.  I had never seen this particular holiday affect my friends and acquaintances as it did that year. Growing up, February 14h was a day that was full of joy and excitement. My parents used to sneak into my room in the middle of the night and line chocolate kisses on our bed posts, closets, toys, and lamps. We would wake up to chocolate wonderland. Seriously. What could be better? In my mind, Valentine’s day was meant for all people, especially me. It was meant for me because I was loved. Therefore, I had every reason to celebrate.

I want to address the hurt. Don’t feel ashamed of your loneliness, don’t deny it. Don’t hold it so close that it makes you bitter. I never want to guard my heart so much that I forget to listen to the desires of my heart. Your desire for love is so good! Jesus made love for us to enjoy, especially romantic love! Don’t deny your loneliness, cover it with truth.

Couples! You have every reason to celebrate the gift the Lord has given you in the other person. Let your heart be full regardless of what gets stuffed in your mailbox. But, If we stop there, we have lost a very valuable part of life.

Here is the truth; I have never been in a romantic relationship on Valentine’s day, or ever in my life. Society has sought to exclude me from this holiday, however, I will thwart those plans. Tomorrow when I wake up, I know, without a doubt, that I will be greeted by a love that has covered me my whole life. I have been offered a love that is altogether pure and simple yet extravagant and groundbreaking. And I have accepted it. I can never be loved more than right now. I am loved because I am Jenn.

“O how sweet to trust in Jesus,

just to trust his cleansing blood;

and in simple faith to plunge me

‘neath the healing, cleansing flood!”

Tis so sweet. I have a reason to celebrate.

Today I received a valentine from my sponsor child and it was incredibly touching. On the front of the card was a picture of her precious face with the words “Will you be my valentine?” Circle of Hope Ministries wrote a message that every child pasted to the back of their valentine. The words were baffling.

“I want to tell you I love you with my arms open wide. You have captured my heart and have shown me what love looks like. It is so much bigger than I ever imagined. Every time I think of you , I can’t help but smile. Thanks for loving me like my Heavenly Father.” 

This is the true heart of tomorrow friends. When did our love become so selfish?  I wish our perspective was not so narrow that we fail to see one another. I yearn for tomorrow to be a day where the mission is to love every human being. Just because they exist.

So join me friends! If you are celebrating someone extraordinary tomorrow, my heart is overjoyed for you. If you’re just getting to know someone, have SO MUCH FUN. If you are celebrating your friends tomorrow, delight in that phase of life. But I beg you not to forget to love the person in front of you. Don’t let society deny you access to this wonderful day.

You are loved. You have a reason to celebrate.

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Living a Life of Wonder

This weekend I was reading on a wooden floor in a beautiful cabin.  As my attention deviated once again from the page I had re-read three times, I noticed something on the window directly across from me. I moved closer and discovered an incredible frost design etched into the glass. The icy particles formed delicate twists and swirls of sparkles in perfect formations. I couldn’t believe it. My mind was captured by its beauty and my heart was completely softened in that moment. I knew it was the work of my father.

I was so excited that I wanted everyone in the room to experience my discovery. I wanted them to be filled to the brim with wonder just as I was.

The intricacy of the Lord’s artwork was within feet of my face. I felt like child, staring at the window in absolute delight. I was drawn closer to Jesus in that moment, He knew the beauty of the frost would touch me. The taste of eternity, the love of the Lord, and the beauty of life, is so tangible to us. When do we allow ourselves to be delighted, to be softened? Life is packed with wonder and brimming with joy; too often it is hindered by our distracted and anxious minds. The Lord is present in that wonder; we can find Him there. We can follow the beautiful things in our life back to the hand of the Father:

-Hearing a pure, simple, melody on the piano that has no name.

-Waking up to sunlight streaming into your window.

-Hearing someone laugh uncontrollably with no restraint.

-Watching children imagine the most incredible stories and attempt to explain them with a fifty-word vocabulary.

-Sitting around a fire with people you care about so much they make your heart hurt.

These are the moments my friends. These are the moments that Jesus wants to experience with you. Let yourself wonder and delight in a life that is worth living. Live deeply and sincerely. Set yourself free to cry, to listen, to pause, to taste, and to fall in love. When I saw the frost imprint on the window, I suddenly remembered how much I was truly loved and truly known.

Put your mind at rest and let yourself wonder.

“The taste of eternity is here on our lips, with every breath we sing, with every breath we sing of your majesty is here in our midst, with every breath we sing.” ~Taste of Eternity by Bellarive

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